France hails 'essential' Qatar role in Libya operations
France's defence minister on Wednesday hailed the "essential" role of Qatari warplanes in UN-mandated coalition operations against the forces of Libyan strongman Moamar Kadhafi.
"Qatar is essential at this time," Defence Minister Gerard Longuet told Qatari and French pilots during a 90-minute visit to the military base of Souda on the island of Crete that is hosting Libya-bound sorties.
"This is the first time that there is such a level of understanding between Europe and the Arab world," Longuet added.
Souda-based French and Qatari Mirage fighters have jointly operated over Libya since March 24, French squadron commander Antoine Guillou told reporters.
"Two French and two Qatari planes fly missions twice a day to patrol Libyan airspace," Guillou said.
Qatar currently has six Mirage 2000-5 jets and a 200-strong military detachment at Souda.
France has another 100 staff and three Mirage jets that are periodically rotated with new arrivals from home.
Qatar will be hosting an upcoming "contact group" meeting between Western powers and Arab countries over the Libya conflict that has become increasingly challenging for the coalition participants.
Initial support from the Arab League helped convinced Western powers of the need to adopt UN resolution 1973, authorizing the use of "all necessary" powers to protect civilian populations from Kadhafi's forces as they launched counter-attacks on rebels seeking to end his four-decade rule.
But after over a week of air strikes, the rebels have failed to overcome Kadhafi's loyalists and the question of helping them further with arms support has divided the coalition.
© 2011 AFP